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Broste Rock Museum


In Paul Broste’s book, “The Proem,” we find the words of wisdom that drove him: “The time to quit is when you are dead and buried.” The day Mr. Broste “quit” was on this day in 1975.

Broste was the nucleus around which the nationally acclaimed Broste Rock Museum was built. He was an unassuming bachelor farmer whose two passions showed up early. One involved his pants pockets, which were always so jammed with rocks that his suspenders broke. The other was squelched as soon as it started. Because he and his older brother were inseparable Paul started school in Pekin when he was barely 5. Yet, when he wrote his name on the blackboard, the teacher thought it was so beautifully done, she didn’t erase it for days. When he started drawing pictures, however, he was punished, and he stopped.

It wasn’t until 1916, when he homesteaded near Parshall, that Broste once again picked up brush and pencil. With his winters free, he made a rather radical decision when – at age 38 – he decided to spend the winters of 1923, ’24 and ’25 studying at the Chicago Art Institute. Unfortunately, he was very hard on himself – his work could never meet the standards he set for himself, even after formal training, and he became frustrated.

He slowly turned his attention back to rocks. In 1940, while traveling south, he began what was to become a very fine collection of mineral specimens. But this didn’t satisfy his creative needs, so he bought some machinery and learned the art of lapidary so he could cut and polish his own stones. He soon became fascinated with making polished stone spheres.

By 1950, he had more than 300 spheres – some as small as golf balls and other as big as bowling balls. He wanted a way to display some of them at a national mineralogical show in Milwaukee, so he and his nephew created a 6' iron “tree” with graceful curved branches that held the spheres like peaches sitting in saucers. His display got him media attention, and he was soon surprised to learn he had the largest collection of stone spheres in the world.

People started flocking to Broste’s farm to have a look, and within three years, he had more than 2,000 names in his visitors’ book. In the early 1960s, the people of Parshall built a museum for Broste and his work, made almost entirely by volunteers. The building is constructed of native granite, with walls 5' feet thick at the base tapering to a “boulder’s width” at the top; the floor is of Mexican onyx tiles cut and polished by Broste. A special hexagonal room was included for a twisting, swirling vortex of spheres reflected on all sides by floor-to-ceiling mirrors. This is called the Infinity Room, but Paul called it his “Astronomical Cavalcade.”

The museum opened in 1966, but Broste didn’t want to be seen as looking for attention. “I did not paint for the matter of getting fame,” he wrote. “I did not cut rocks for the matter of making 370 spheres; I did not publish a book for the matter of publishing a book... (it’s like) when you are thirsty you want to drink, when you are hungry, you want to eat.”

When Broste died in 1975, the museum was turned over to the town of Parshall, which, by the way, is 10 miles east of Newtown. The building slowly fell into disrepair, and in 1997, it was closed. Thankfully, it has since been renovated. Geologists have inventoried Broste’s collections, which they term “spectacular.” They found almost 600 spheres, as well as many Smithsonian-quality mineral specimens that are so rare they can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Written by Merry Helm